High aims cost great dedication
It's a tough price for teenagers but Watson Briggs pays it for the love of badminton. Roddy Mackenzie reports.
Watson Briggs cannot remember the last time he had a drink of cola. Fizzy drinks and fast food were banned as the High School of Glasgow pupil embarked on a fierce training regime designed to make Scotland more competitive in the international arena.
Watson, a sixth year pupil and Scotland's number one badminton player at junior level, is one of a new breed of players. When the sport's governing body revealed its programme for junior players last year and outlined the commitment required, there was an outcry from some parents.
But the message from Badminton Scotland was clear: if players were to benefit from National Lottery funding then they must be serious about their sport.
Badminton Scotland wants to mirror the successful countries in the world and try to take the game to a new level in Scotland. In effect, the Lottery-funded squad was cut from 64 players to 16 to ensure that more money went to the players at the top to help them develop their potential fully.
Diana Koleva Tzvetanova, a Bulgarian once ranked in the world's top 20, was recruited last May to oversee the development of the best 11-to 17-year-olds in the country.
Watson, now 17, is in his final year with the junior development squad and is building towards the European Junior Championships in the Netherlands next year. After that, he hopes to progress to the senior Sports Institute squad, but that will depend on his achievements over the months ahead.
Once ranked Scotland's number four at junior level in squash and having represented the west of Scotland at junior level in cricket, Watson has been concentrating solely on his badminton for the past four years.
He is fortunate that his school is within walking distance of the National Badminton Academy at Scotstoun. His training schedule is exhausting: three hours on Mondays; three hours on Tuesdays; four hours on Wednesdays; at least four hours on Thursdays; three hours on Fridays; and all day on Saturdays. Sundays are rest days.
"Training was serious when I first joined the squad but it went up to another level when Diana arrived," Watson says.
"It's not all working on court. We do conditioning work - running and jumping -on Mondays, we have weights sessions and we also run on the track at Scotstoun once a week. We have a running coach, Frank Rafferty, and he varies the track work. It can go from 10 x 200m up to 800m and a lot of it is shuttle runs.
"I'm fortunate in that I'm a natural at running and so I only tend to do one session a week, whereas some others are on the track twice a week.
"It is a big commitment. Last year was a bit of a nightmare, as I was sitting five Highers and I had to do all of my homework on a Sunday. This year is better as I have free periods and can get my school work done during school time, which leaves more time for my badminton."
The heavy schedule does not appear to have hampered him academically: he achieved two As, a B and a C in his Higher exams and he hopes to go on to study for a business degree at Glasgow or Strathclyde University, combining it with his badminton ambitions.
To support his physical work, diet has become an important part of Watson's preparation. Not so long ago it was common to see young players at badminton, tennis or table tennis tournaments snacking on fizzy drinks and crisps between matches. Not now.
"In the big English or European tournaments you can be playing from 9am to 10.30pm or 11pm. Eating the right foods is important," explains Watson.
"Some of the food we are told to eat is pretty weird and wonderful, but it all helps. If I was caught drinking a can of Coke, I think I'd be shot.
"I've had to change my habits a lot. It impacts on your social life, but on a Saturday you end up so tired after training all day that the last thing you want to do is go out.
"I think people are surprised how much it takes. Badminton always looks on television as if it's played on a small court and the shuttlecock appears to move slowly, but it's a very fast game and you have to cover a lot of court. There was some research done recently which showed you have to run twice as far playing badminton compared to tennis and also run faster."
Watson was 8 years old when he first took up the game at his local sports centre, where he was fortunate enough to come under the wing of former Scotland national coach Gillian Martin. This gave Watson the foundations necessary to build a career in badminton.
"I played in my first Scottish schools' tournament when I was in Primary 6 and since then, I've played in just about everything," he laughs. "I think I've now won 10 national titles at singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
"This year is all about building towards the European Junior Championships.
There are six or seven of us now training like this."
After watching the English mixed doubles pair Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms win a silver medal for Britain at the Olympic Games in Athens - it was only the second time Britian had won a badminton Olympic medal - he knows success can be achieved from a British background.
He had a chance to see Emms at close hand at Scotstoun last week when Badminton Scotland announced pound;150,000 sponsorship from the Bank of Scotland to develop the game at youth level. Emms said she started playing the game at 7 years old and it had taken her 20 years of hard work to get to the highest level.
"The success of Nathan and Gail was a bit of an eye-opener for me, as the Asians are so strong in badminton terms," says Watson, "but it shows what can be achieved.
"The attitude to the game is changing in Scotland and some of the junior players are now more professional in their outlook than the senior ones.
Hopefully, this will rub off on the young players following us through and it will help the future of the game."